NFC West News & Notes - 10/18/06

If you don't produce in the NFL, you'll be history quickly. And that's not just for players -- ask the two offensive coordinator who were fired Tuesday. Baltimore let Jim Fassel go while Arizona's coach Dennis Green made Keith Rowan the first scapegoat following Monday's heartbreaking loss to Chicago.

Baltimore and Cleveland are on the opposite ends of the AFC North spectrum, with the Ravens leading the way at 4-2 and the Browns scuffling along in last place 2 1/2 games behind.

However, they share one thing in common -- porous offense.

The Ravens rank 28th in the league at 271.7 yards per game and the Browns 31st at 261.2. Baltimore's ranking would be even lower if not for two big plays off deflected passes last Sunday. So it's understandable that both head coaches are taking a more active role in the offensive game plans for their respective teams. Ravens coach Brian Billick made a bold move Tuesday, firing Fassel. Instead of promoting quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel into the role, Billick will take control of the play-calling.

Several Baltimore players have voiced displeasure with the offense in recent weeks, but Billick said that's not what prompted the move. "There was no single incident or episode that brought about this change," he said. "It was a collective evaluation on my part that something dramatic needed to be done."

Romeo Crennel isn't being dramatic in Cleveland -- not yet, anyway. He gave offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon a vote of confidence during the team's bye week, but admitted he might take a more active role in the play-calling. While Crennel said he's not likely to insert a bunch of gimmick plays, he has tabled some that haven't been working and emphasized a few he believes the offense should focus on.
"If I add pizzazz and that doesn't work, I'm going to have to go back and try to be consistent again," he said.

In Arizona, quarterbacks coach Mike Kruczek will take over for Rowen. "I just don't think we've been scoring enough points," said Green. "Every week I've been saying that. We have not been as efficient. We're 23rd in the NFL in total offense and we're probably worse than that in scoring offense. Again, it doesn't all fall on one guy, but there is a job that has to be done and I'm going to give another guy a chance to do that job."

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Coach Mike Holmgren is saving a spot for Bobby Engram when the veteran receiver returns from a thyroid condition. "Bobby Engram, when he's healthy, he's playing for us," Holmgren affirmed. "He's always going to play for me."

Engram, 33, missed Seattle's 30-28 victory over the Rams after doctors diagnosed a thyroid condition that had sapped him of his strength. The team is confident Engram can make a quick recovery through medication. The plan, for now, is to see if Engram can play against Kansas City in two weeks. "He is feeling better," Holmgren said. "It's my understanding the medicine they've given him has really helped.

It's unlikely that we will have him this week, but I'm hopeful that he can play against Kansas City." Engram caught 18 passes in the first four games, including a touchdown. But he felt weak and lethargic during the bye week.

"It's his strength, and his energy," Holmgren said. "It's my understanding this thing sapped his energy.

"And then his measurables when they test him -- his percentages of this and that -- have to be right."

Engram did not accompany the team to St. Louis. He watched one practice last week, early in the week. "He's responding well to the medicine they're giving him," Holmgren said. "It's a little to early to have a definitive answer. I feel ... it's going to be sooner than later."

Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch are the starters. Engram will be the third guy when he returns. For now, WR Nate Burleson is filling that role, with D.J. Hackett also getting on the field.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Matt Hasselbeck bounced back from his poor performance against Chicago with a three-TD showing against the Rams' shaky pass defense. Hasselbeck has absorbed 17 sacks in the first five games, including four more in St. Louis. Seattle needs to help him with an improved ground game and quick-passing approach. That's what worked in the second half against the Rams.

--RB Shaun Alexander remains at least two weeks away from returning. The Seahawks were fortunate to win on the road against the Rams without their injured league MVP. The home crowd will help them against the Vikings this week, but Alexander could be missed when Seattle visits Kansas City the following week. With a victory over the Vikings and a loss at Kansas City, the team would have a 5-2 record when Alexander returns to the lineup.

--RB Maurice Morris must shake off his fourth-quarter fumble against the Rams. Morris said he nearly gave the team a heart attack. He also nearly killed Seattle's chances at claiming a needed victory on the road against a division opponent. The fumble was a bit of a fluke, however. Officials credited DE Leonard Little for stripping him, but Little did not knock the ball loose. The ball popped free when Morris fell onto the legs of Rams LB Brandon Chillar.

--TE Itula Mili caught two passes for 18 yards Sunday as Seattle threw his way three times. It was the pass he did not catch that showed what Seattle is missing without injured starting TE Jerramy Stevens. Mili could not outrun a Rams linebacker down the middle of the field for what could have been a long gain on a third-and-11 play in the second quarter.

--WR Deion Branch caught two TD passes last week, a great sign for Seattle because Branch is not entirely comfortable yet. There were a few obvious miscommunications between Branch and QB Matt Hasselbeck during Seattle's 30-28 victory. The two are working hard to get on the same page, but it will take time. In the meantime, they have been able to produce some big plays. Branch has also gained eight and 19 yards on end-around running plays.

--WR Darrell Jackson is on pace for double-digit touchdowns this season. That might unrealistic if RB Shaun Alexander returns to health. But with Alexander out and TE Jerramy Stevens having missed time, Jackson has been a higher priority in the red zone. He has TD grabs of four and 12 yards to go with 49- and 42-yarder scoring catches.

--WR Nate Burleson has seven catches and four drops in his first five games with Seattle. He is getting less playing time since the addition of WR Deion Branch from New England. "As long as we're winning, I can't complain about anything," Burleson said. "You ask anybody who knows me, I've been the type of guy who loves seeing other people being successful. Now for me, it's just finding my niche in this receiving corps. We have so much talent that it's going to be different from game to game. Coming here, I didn't expect to be the No. 1 receiver."

--WR Bobby Engram is expected to miss the Minnesota game, but the team hopes to have him against Kansas City the following week. Engram, sidelined by a thyroid condition, remains high on coach Mike Holmgren's list even after the addition of WR Deion Branch from New England. "Bobby Engram, when he's healthy, he's playing for us," Holmgren said. "He's always going to play for me."

--LB Julian Peterson has four sacks in his first five games with Seattle. He had three sacks in 15 games for the 49ers last season. Peterson is closer to full strength after having more time to recover from a torn Achilles' tendon that limited him to five games in 2004.

--FS Ken Hamlin drew an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Rams last week for pushing Rams QB Marc Bulger after a sack Sunday. Hamlin walks a fine line between cultivating the enforcer image while trying to play smart. He has two sacks in four games, doubling his career total entering this season.

--CB Marcus Trufant was in coverage for one of three TD passes that WR Torry Holt caught Sunday. He is healthy and trying to have a breakout season, but Seattle continues to allow too many long pass plays. Trufant is still looking for his first interception.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Matt Leinart's two impressive performances to begin his career as the Cardinals' franchise quarterback weren't enough to save offensive coordinator Keith Rowen from the heavy hand of coach Dennis Green the day after Arizona blew a 20-0 halftime lead against Chicago. Green fired Rowen and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Mike Kruczek.

"I just don't think we've been scoring enough points," said Green. "Every week I've been saying that. We have not been as efficient. We're 23rd in the NFL in total offense and we're probably worse than that in scoring offense. Again, it doesn't all fall on one guy, but there is a job that has to be done and I'm going to give another guy a chance to do that job."
Rowen will remain with the team, although his specific role has not been determined.

Kruczek has been with the Cardinals since 2004 after 19 years at the University of Central Florida. He has two Super Bowl rings from his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Green said Kruczek will call plays from the field.

"Mike Kruczek has been here from the onset, and I think his on the field and also his close working relationship with Matt Leinart will give us a better chance," Green said. "At certain times you have to feel like you have to do something different. Something that we hope will be better for us. I think Mike is a very demanding, taskmaster type of guy and he is "old school" all the way. I think that is what we need right now."

--The Cardinals played one of their finest defensive games in years Monday against the Bears, but breakdowns on offense and special teams proved costly. That's nothing new for the Cardinals, who have struggled in those areas for years. The Cardinals have started quickly in both of Matt Leinart's starts, getting off to 14-0 leads in the first quarter. But the offense has faded in both games.

The defense yielded only 168 yards against the Bears and collected six turnovers, including four interceptions. The Cardinals squandered a 23-3 lead in the second half. The impact of this loss, their fifth straight, could be felt for some time.

"You look at how we played from a defensive standpoint," defensive end Bertrand Berry said. "Did we play well enough to win? Yeah. Did we win? No. But I mean, wow. I'm speechless. I have no idea what to say to you guys.

"This is a first. I hoped I would play long enough to see just about everything. And I've seen just about everything at this point."

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Larry Fitzgerald, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury, hopes to be able to play against Oakland. That seems unlikely, however. He probably will miss at least another week.

--WR Anquan Boldin has stepped up in Larry Fitzgerald's absence. He caught 12 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown against the Bears.

--RB Edgerrin James gained 55 yards on 36 carries. According to Elias, no back in NFL history has carried the ball that many times for that few yards.

--C Nick Leckey started in place of Alex Stepanovich on Sunday and seemed to play better than Stepanovich did the first five weeks.

--RG Milford Brown might miss another week with a sprained ankle. Chris Liwienski is starting in his place.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Back in April, coach Scott Linehan made it clear that he had certain expectations for his football team. It was then that tight end Brandon Manumaleuna was traded to the Chargers after being absent for the team's off-season program. Fast forward six months to Monday when defensive end Anthony Hargrove was traded to the Buffalo Bills, a little more than three weeks after he missed two days of meetings and practice. He didn't contacting the team on the first day, and was a no-show for a meeting with Linehan.

Asked about a message being sent to the team, Linehan said, "I don't believe, really, too much in sending messages, or making statements. It is, certainly, a trend for our program to progress towards a level of consistency that we want to achieve. We certainly aren't there yet, but I think our players have 100 percent bought into that program. I really honestly think the world of Tony. You've had a chance to get to know him better than me. He's a real likeable guy. He's got a lot of talent. He's been fighting with the level of consistency that we command and want to reflect as part of our program, and was working towards that.

"I think it was a thing where ... I told him, 'To be honest with you, if we didn't have a major problem right in the middle of the season, I'm not sure we would be having this discussion today,' when I was talking about the trade. That's real life. I feel bad that it didn't work out. Sometimes a change of scenery is good for not just our franchise, but for Tony. He's going to go back and play for the guy that really pushed the hardest to get him drafted. He's a heck of a coach, Bill Kollar. I think sometimes change is good for both."

Said Hargrove of Kollar, who was the defensive line coach in Hargrove's previous two years, "I'm excited to be back with him. He's the coach that drafted me. There will be no surprises." The trade leaves the Rams with just three defensive ends: Leonard Little, Victor Adeyanju and Brandon Green. Adeyanju, a fourth-round pick this year, has been starting since Hargrove's unexcused absences.

Said Linehan, "I think Victor's filled in very well for a young player. I think (rookie defensive tackle) Claude Wroten's coming on now. I think a lot of that factors into it (the trade) as well." On Green, Linehan said, "He gives us a guy with a high motor and is very consistent for what we ask him to do. He's one of those guys that you can count on you're going to get everything, and more, out of Brandon every time he plays."

On Tuesday, the Rams gave tryouts to defensive ends Tony Bryant and Carlos Hall.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger is growing more and more comfortable each week in the Rams' new system under coach Scott Linehan. He has one interception in 208 attempts this season, with a passer rating of 99.8.

--RB Steven Jackson had seven receptions Sunday against Seattle, as he getting more involved in the passing game. Jackson is averaging five catches a game, and 9.0 yards per reception.

--WR Torry Holt continues to quietly establish himself as one of the best receivers in the NFL. His three-touchdown day Sunday against Seattle gave him seven for the season.

--WR Isaac Bruce is showing he has plenty left as he approaches his 34th birthday Nov. 10. Bruce is averaging 14.4 yards per reception and is on pace for another 1,000-yard season.

--TE Joe Klopfenstein hasn't had that many receptions in his rookie season (seven), but he is averaging 16.9 yards per catch, and each week gets more comfortable in the offense.

--DE Victor Adeyanju will remain the starter for the foreseeable future at right end following the trade of Anthony Hargrove to Buffalo. Adeyanju is better against the run than the pass, although he had his first NFL sack Sunday against Seattle.

--FS Oshiomogho Atogwe is learning on the job, and has made some critical errors in the passing game. It was Atogwe that missed the coverage on a key Darrell Jackson 42-yard touchdown in Seattle's come-from-behind win Sunday.

--DT Claude Wroten, this year's third-round draft pick, has been participating in more plays each week, and is becoming a consistent part of the rotation.

--FB Nicolas Luchey had a tryout with the Rams Tuesday, thanks to injuries affecting both FB Paul Smith and FB Madison Hedgecock.

--CB Jerametrius Butler remains mired in the doghouse. Despite injuries in the secondary, coaches prefer to use SS Corey Chavous as a nickel or dime back instead of Butler.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Although the 49ers surrendered 48 points in a blowout loss to the Chargers on Sunday, it appeared as if the club's new starters played reasonably well. The 49ers gave strong safety Mark Roman and nose tackle Ronald Fields their first starts of the season, taking over for Tony Parrish and Anthony Adams. Both Parrish and Adams have struggled this season.

Parrish has been a liability in pass defense after coming back from a broken lower leg last season that ended his season. And Adams appears to be too small to play the nose in the scheme the 49ers want to run. Roman had three tackles and a broken up pass against the Chargers, while Fields had five tackles in about 50 snaps of action. He also nearly recorded a sack. He had Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in his hands in the end zone, but Rivers dumped off a pass and was called for intentional grounding. The call resulted in a safety.

"Both those players did a good job," Nolan said. "In particular, I think Ron did a good job on the defensive line. Mark Roman played about two-thirds of the snaps in the game and did very well himself. It's hard for me to say that anyone played outstanding on defense with the way we performed overall, but it was Fields who got the safety and he did some good things."

Fields was drafted as a nose tackle but has spent some time trying to transition to defensive end because Adams and Isaac Sopoaga were playing nose tackle.

"We had Adams and Sopoaga at the nose position, so we thought we'd make Ron the flip defensive end for us," Nolan said. "Our ends are typically our tackles. Bryant Young is a defensive tackle, but our ends play that role. We were not played with the performance on the inside, with the lack of consistency, so we put Ron in there and he did a good job. It will stay that way for now."

With a bye week upon them - the 49ers return to play the Bears on Oct. 29 - Nolan said he is looking for subtle changes to help a defense ranked 28th in the league. "I think there are some things we can do as far as incorporating some players," Nolan said. "I think it's important to inspire players to play, especially backups who may not be getting many reps. To give them a role in the game is important, whether it's to come in every other series or something like that. Sometimes it's meant to create competition, as we've done with the safety spot."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith has continued to look in control of the 49ers' offense in just his second season. Smith has been remarkably consistent this season, completing 59.6 percent of his passes for 1,285 yards in six games. Smith has thrown eight touchdowns and four interceptions and has a passer rating of 86.4.

--RB Frank Gore fell to No. 3 in the league in rushing after a 55-yard performance against the Chargers. Gore has gained 520 yards on 112 carries for a 4.6-yard average. After fumbling in his first four games, he has not fumbled in the past two games. He also leads the 49ers in receptions with 24 for 202 yards.

--RB Michael Robinson played just three snaps against the Chargers after carrying 12 times the previous week against the Raiders. For the season, Robinson has 64 yards on 24 carries, mostly in short-yardage situations. He has two rushing touchdowns.

--FB Moran Norris, a forceful lead-blocker, has emerged as the starter. He started his fourth consecutive game on Sunday against the Chargers. Although his blocking was generally superb, he was beaten by OLB Shawne Merriman for a fourth-quarter sack. He even caught a 2-yard pass for his second career touchdown.

--FB Chris Hetherington was inactive Sunday against the Chargers for the third consecutive game after starting the first two games of the season.

--WR Antonio Bryant leads the team in receiving yards with 415 on 21 receptions. Bryant has also shown an ability to block downfield, which has resulted in some long Frank Gore runs.

--WR Arnaz Battle has been healthy this season and he is turning into a competent No. 2 receiver with 20 receptions for 233 yards and a team-leading two TD receptions.

--WR Bryan Gilmore, the team's No. 3 receiver, played 26 snaps against the Chargers. Although he has just six receptions for the season, he has also rushed three times for 53 yards. He had a 22-yarder against the Chargers, but then fumbled on an end-around later in the game.

--TE Vernon Davis is expected to miss at least another game with his broken leg, though Davis said he is targeting the Oct. 29 game against the Bears, which comes after the bye. Davis had five catches for 37 yards this season, all of which came in the season opener at the Cardinals, before the injury.

--TE Eric Johnson has taken over as the main tight end and has played almost every snap since Vernon Davis' injury. Johnson, who led the team with 82 catches two seasons ago, is fourth on the team with 17 receptions for 155 yards. When Davis returns to the lineup, Johnson will see his playing time slashed considerably.

--LG Larry Allen is expected to return to the lineup Oct. 29 when the 49ers play the Bears after the bye week. He has been out with a left knee injury since getting injured on the sixth play of the season. Allen's return should help the 49ers in short-yardage running situations.

--LT Jonas Jennings, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, is expected to return to the lineup Oct. 29 against the Bears, following the bye week. Jennings has missed time in four of the 49ers' six games this season due to injuries. He underwent surgery last week to repair a torn finger ligament on his left hand. He also had a minor wrist sprain. Although Jennings figures to be the starter when he's healthy, coach Mike Nolan said he will compete with Adam Snyder for the job.

--K Joe Nedney, who made 26 of 28 field-goal attempts last season, is just 8 of 12 this season. He has missed field-goal attempts of 34, 46, 51 and 49 yards.

--SS Mark Roman has been promoted into the starting lineup, taking Tony Parrish's job. Roman played reasonably well in his first start against the Chargers, with three tackles and a pass defensed.

--SS Tony Parrish started the first 126 games of his career, but he was on the sideline when Sunday's game began. Parrish played sparingly and did not record a tackle. The nine-year pro is in the final year of his 49ers contract.

--NT Ronald Fields got the first start of his NFL career and responded with a solid game. He recorded five tackles and had Chargers QB Philip Rivers in his grasp in the end zone when Rivers was called for intentional grounding, resulting in a safety. Fields took over for Anthony Adams in the starting lineup.

--TE Delanie Walker, playing in his third game since sustaining a separated shoulder Sept. 1 in the 49ers' final exhibition game, played six snaps of offense. He had a 16-yard reception wiped out by a penalty.

--CB Walt Harris is expected to return to action Oct. 29 against the Bears after the bye week. Harris did not suit up for Sunday's game against the Chargers because of a hamstring strain.


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